BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Crystal Palace academy director Gary Issott has revealed how Aaron Wan-Bissaka divided opinion – even a matter of weeks before making his Premier League debut.
The 20-year-old right-back broke into the Eagles side in late February as he made his bow against Tottenham Hotspur.
And the Croydon-born defender then went on to also start against Manchester United and Chelsea.
Wan-Bissaka also won two England under-20 caps before the campaign was up.
By mid-April he had signed a new contract with Palace until 2022. Whirlwind is an apt description of his rise to prominence.
Issott said: “It is so difficult to tell if young players are ready until you put them in. “I remember being at a reserve game and [EFL] managers were not sure about him – that was eight weeks before he played against Tottenham.
“These lads either sink or swim. We just hope he continues the way he has done last season. We’ve all seen players that have sometimes not had the second season that they have promised. But he has a good temperament, he doesn’t get carried away with himself.
“He is very similar to Nathaniel Clyne in how good he is defensively. It is so natural to him. We never had to coach Clyney on distances, one-v-one and watching off the ball – he was immaculate. Aaron is the same.”
Wan-Bissaka joined Palace at the age of 11 but could have been heading out the exit door if it had not been for Peter Yates, associate principal at Oasis Shirley Park.
“We had a partnership with them and Peter thought we should keep hold of him,” explained Issott. “It was probably him that swayed me more than some of the coaches, one or two were talking quite negatively.
“Peter has seen Sean Scannell and Ibra Sekajja come through. I respect his opinion.
“He also had Neal Ardley [AFC Wimbledon manager] back in the day. He is still quite close to him. It just shows you need to listen to everybody when you make these sort of decisions.
“We kept Aaron, he was a real slow burner at 15 and 16. But when he came back as a scholar he bypassed the youth team and played every week for the U21s.”
Wan-Bissaka has bucked the trend of Premier League players going out on loan to the lower leagues before they get a chance in the top flight.
“He has only ever played U21s, or U23s as it is now,” said Issott. “Even as a schoolboy he wasn’t a standout player at 14.
“I think initially, for whatever reasons, there wasn’t a club to take him on loan. He was a right-winger at U17, U18 and part of his U19 year. There was a conversion to right-back. There was interest just before he made his debut but the manager [Roy Hodgson] was keen to keep him around.”
So how did that switch to defence happen?
“He was training with the first-team, up against Wilf [Zaha] a lot and did very well against him. There are not many players who can manage Wilf. I think it turned Kevin Keen to the idea.
“He mentioned it to Richard Shaw [U23 boss], who set about his development as a right-back.
“You don’t get three tougher games to start your career than Tottenham, Manchester United and Arsenal.
“I know some of the first-team boys were very good with him the last pre-season under Frank de Boer – he travelled and Jason Puncheon had a good influence on him.
“Aaron is a quiet guy, he doesn’t get fazed by too much.”
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